The Bridge of Lions was built between 1925 and 1927 as a way for automobiles to travel from downtown St. Augustine to Anastasia Island. Florida East Coast Railway bridge expert Henry Rodenbaugh organized the bond to finance the bridge in the early 1920s. Simultaneously, a developer named D.P. Davis was planning to dredge the northern tip of Anastasia Island and create a residential area there. D.P. Davis had previously been responsible for the work on Davis Island in Tampa, Florida. Due to a real estate market crash, construction on this project stopped abruptly but the bridge was still completed and the neighborhood on the east end of the Bridge of Lions, revived after World War II, is still called Davis Shores.
Due to the poor financial situation of St. Augustine in 1927 when construction finished, the bridge’s dedication ceremony was paired with the city’s annual Ponce de Leon celebration. Ever since it has remained a symbol of St. Augustine. The bridge itself is a double-leaf bascule bridge (a type of drawbridge). It allows both commercial and recreational vessels through its gateway on the Matanzas Bay, part of the Intracoastal Waterway. Pedestrians are also able to cross on either side of the two-lane bridge and have the option of running the annual Bridge of Lions 5k.
On the west side of the bridge stand two lions for which the bridge was named. These marble Medici lion statues, crafted in Florence, Italy, are named “Firm” and “Faithful,” and were gifted to the city by Dr. Andrew Anderson, who died the year before bridge construction began.
The Bridge of Lions (part of State Road A1A) replaced a ferry boat and a wooden toll bridge that was built in 1895. By 1904 this wooden bridge held a small trolley and was also called the South Beach railroad bridge. By 1999, the Bridge of Lions had become structurally weak and the Florida Department of Transportation approved a $80 million plan to renovate the bridge. Reynolds, Smith, & Hills, a Jacksonville infrastructure consulting firm, received the project contract. During this renovation from 2005 to 2011, the marble lions were removed from their posts.